Joining several other cosponsors, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), his Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Houston-area Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) put their names the legislation.
According to the text, the bill, known as the ‘USA Liberty Act,’ seeks to reauthorize FISA, which would otherwise expire at the end of this year; its reauthorizations would permit the continued collection of communications data on “non-U.S. persons,” though, according to some reports, this sometimes involves collecting data on U.S. citizens, as well.
Authors of the Liberty Act say Section 702 of FISA is of particular importance in regard to their bill; according to the House Judiciary Committee’s report on the Liberty Act, the specific section of the act providing U.S. government authorizations to collect data on non U.S. citizens outside the country is to enhance national security.
The bill would make changes to and extend the government’s spying powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The government uses Section 702 to spy on the emails, text messages, and phone calls of Americans who are communicating with people overseas.
A broad coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation sent a letter to the leaders of House Judiciary Committee last week saying that the groups cannot support the current version of a surveillance reform bill introduced last week.
The letter states the bill fails to completely address concerns with the so-called “backdoor search loophole.”
“This bill doesn’t do enough to protect Americans’ privacy and it must be improved,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU. “As written, the bill still allows the government to read emails, text messages, and other communications of Americans without a probable cause warrant or even a shred of evidence suggesting that the person has information necessary to protect against an imminent threat. This glaring loophole fails to address concerns by the public that Section 702 could be used to improperly surveil journalists, government critics, activists, and other private citizens.”
The bill would require the government to obtain a warrant before viewing content collected under Section 702 in certain criminal contexts, but continues to allow access to this information for broad “foreign intelligence” purposes without a warrant.